The state’s picture-book authors and illustrators (and readers!) had a great year.
Among 2019 Maine children’s books, none rings the holiday bells so clearly as Dasher, by Ogunquit author/illustrator Matt Tavares. A young reindeer, Dasher spends her days conscripted in a traveling circus, dreaming of the wintry north. Spoiler alert: she escapes and meets a certain overweight gentleman. And while that makes for a heartwarming story, the illustrations are what really captivate. Given the Yuletide topic, it’s tempting to see in the smooth, shadowy style traces of Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express. “I would often head outside after storms to take pictures of new-fallen snow to help,” Tavares says. Ogunquit’s rooftops show up on the snowy pages, as does Tavares’s own home. Ages 4–8. Candlewick Press. $17.99 — Emmeline Willey
Going Down Home with Daddy, written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Portland artist Daniel Minter, tells the tale of a young black boy, Lil Alan, returning to his grandmother’s farm, land that has been in his family for generations. Surrounded by relatives, Lil Alan learns about his family’s history of oppression and overcoming, and while the other kids honor their collective pasts with songs, poetry, and scrapbooks, he searches for his own way to commemorate his ancestors. Minter’s dreamlike illustrations colorfully evoke rural life, inner turmoil, and the strength that binds family. Ages 4–8. Peachtree Publishing Company Inc. $16.95 — Kate ladstatter
Bruce is a grump, but one who’s beloved by young readers, which is why Kittery author/illustrator Ryan Higgins has, in four years, written eight books about the unibrowed bear. In past installments, Bruce has had to contend with goslings that think he’s their mother and with forest critters that treat his den like a hotel. In Bruce’s Big Storm, he again plays host when a storm sweeps into Soggy Hollow and his neighbors come to his door for shelter. This is a dilemma, because as the first page informs the reader, “Bruce was a bear who did not like neighbors.” Ages 3–5. Disney Hyperion. $17.99 — E.W.
Portlander and two-time Caldecott winner Melissa Sweet teamed up with Newbery medalist Kwame Alexander on a book about the joy of reading. “Squeeze every morsel of each plump line until the last drop of magic drips from the infinite sky,” Alexander writes in How to Read a Book. And Sweet’s vivid, whirlwind collages (which repurposed pages from an old copy of Bambi) echo Alexander’s buoyant poetry so clearly that the text and art become almost inextricable. “I loved Kwame’s poem,” Sweet says, “and I was intrigued by the challenge of crafting a visual story around it.” Ages 4–8. Harper. $17.99 — E.W.
Dexter native and Winthrop resident Lynn Plourde says her latest book, If I Could Give You Christmas, is “a celebration of the smaller moments that are often overlooked during the holiday season.” The pages repeat the titular mantra, then deliver a dose of winter nostalgia. “If I could give you Christmas, it would smell like wafts and whiffs of gingerbread and cocoa,” and, “If I could give you Christmas, it would be wibbly-wobbly skating on a pond.” Illustrator Jennifer L. Meyer shows pairs of young and old animals charmingly acting out the scenes: otters sledding or moose gazing at a night sky. Ages 3–5. Disney Hyperion. $17.99 — K.L.
Hover-desks, a trampoline basketball court, and flying buses make up just a fraction of Jack’s plans for his ideal school in Camden author/illustrator Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a School, the third book in a popular series. Jack has previously applied his creative fancy to house construction and automobile manufacturing. If I Built a Car won the 2006 E.B. White Read Aloud Award from the Association of Booksellers for Children. Now, a Hollywood producer is adapting stories about Jack and his wild imagination for the big screen. Ages 5–8. Dial. $17.99 — K.L.